Sunday, July 1, 2007

Designing a campus

An urban space at any point in time will have a past and a present and its effect on people will motivate designers to articulate it in order to serve better. A theme ‘Tradition & Modernity’ may not be about ‘Historic Preservation’ nor about ‘Styles’ but about ‘Continuity’, about preventing an encroaching alienation faced by us towards contemporary architectural and urban spaces.

Sometimes, it is the juxtaposition of an old building with a new one on the street and sometimes the co-existence of an old shopfront with a new one, both housed within the same aging building that has been part of the street for several decades. Or shaping a new “village” within a city where signs of the old dilapidated one still exist, the ‘urban village’ serving commercial needs in a modern but quaint fashion, as at the Hauz Khas village in Delhi. Even if one is designing a single new building in an existing campus, it must no doubt express what has been before and also reflect the inherent nature of the buildings around it.

What makes some campuses more spectacular than others? Is it the natural beauty; its landscape and perhaps that it nestles amidst the hills? One wonders whether this built environment without the trees, flowers and lawns could be just as special. And if not, i.e. if the landscape does prove to be a very vital part of the campus, does it then establish the fact that the ‘garden’ or ‘landscape’ ought not to be an entity separate from architecture but that the two be treated as an integrated whole. One must nevertheless make a substantial effort to sustain the relationship of the parts. How does one allow for growth & change and express continuity?

What role do landmarks play within a campus plan? Do they add grandeur physically and with their representation in the institute catalogs? Do they provide a sense of place or, render a feeling of security on a sprawling campus? Do open spaces that belong to a large campus also belong to the city? And, how much of the city may belong to the campus; of the streets that enter it and the open spaces that engulf it?

A campus is seen as a place formed not so much by the buildings as by the spaces in between. Is a campus born out of symmetry more difficult to nurture than one which is randomly planned? How does one grow a campus?

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